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Best of Enemies

A rich, extraordinarily fascinating account of the Buckley-Vidal debates that’s sure to have many viewers’ minds constantly shuttling between then and now.

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.

#174 July 1, 2013

Marie writes: The West Coast is currently experiencing a heat wave and I have no air conditioning. That said, and despite it currently being 80F inside my apartment, at least the humidity is low. Although not so low, that I don't have a fan on my desk and big glass of ice tea at the ready. My apartment thankfully faces East and thus enjoys the shade after the sun has crossed the mid-point overhead. And albeit perverse in its irony, it's because it has been so hot lately that I've been in the mood to watch the following film again and which I highly recommend to anyone with taste and a discerning eye.

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Cinema through a cloudy eye

Bolstered by Akira Ifukube's trudging "Gojira" theme and the shorthand it affords, on two separate filmic occasions director Leos Carax chose to pair it with a city-scrolling vista, and in doing so reference his past work for the first time. Homage and visual motifs have always earmarked the enigmatic auteur's films, namely in the unstable romances of "Boy Meets Girl" and "Les Amants de Pont Neuf," but within his two most recent efforts -- a section of the 2008 triptych "Tokyo!" and his 2012 vexing "Holy Motors" -- he centers this rare repetition on one character that is not so much a reprisal as it is an emotional transformation.

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The great movies (almost) nobody voted for

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OK, this is where it really gets interesting. Forget the consensus Top 50 Greatest Movies of All Time; let's get personal. Sight & Sound has now published the top 250 titles in its 2012 international critics poll, the full list of more than 2,000 movies mentioned, and all the individual lists of the 845 participating critics, academics, archivists and programmers, along with any accompanying remarks they submitted. I find this to be the most captivating aspect of the survey, because it reminds us of so many terrific movies we may have forgotten about, or never even heard of. If you want to seek out surprising, rewarding movies, this is a terrific place to start looking. For the past few days I've been taking various slices at the "data" trying to find statistical patterns, and to glean from the wealth of titles some treasures I'd like to heartily recommend -- and either re-watch or catch up with myself.

I know we're supposed to consider the S&S poll a feature film "canon" -- a historically influential decennial event since 1952, but just one of many. I don't disagree with Greg Ferrara at TCM's Movie Morlocks ("Ranking the Greats: Please Make it Stop") when he says that limiting ballots to ten all-time "best" (or "favorite," "significant," "influential" titles is incredibly limiting. That's why I think perusing at the critics' personal lists, the Top 250 (cited by seven critics or more) and the full list of 2,045 films mentioned is more enjoyable pastime.

It's wise to remember that, although the top of the poll may at first glance look relatively conservative or traditional, there's a tremendous diversity in the individual lists. Even the top vote-getter, "Vertigo," was chosen by less than one quarter of the participants.

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Greatest Films of All Time: Where's the funny?

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The big loser in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics poll is... funny. OK, we know there are no losers, only winners! But, still, with the obvious exceptions of "Citizen Kane" and "Rules of the Game," this decade's consensus choices for the Greatest Films of All Time are not a whole lotta laughs, even though they're terrific motion pictures. There's not much in the way of chuckles or joie de vivre to be found in "Vertigo," "Tokyo Story," "Man with a Movie Camera," "The Searchers," "The Passion of Joan of Arc"... At least "Sunrise," "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "8 1/2" have healthy senses of humor, but "Kane" and "Rules of the Game" are the only movies in the top 10 with the propulsive vitality of (screwball) comedy. They are flat-out fun (even if they are regarded as "classics"). And with "Kane" bumped to #2 this time, The List has become, to paraphrase a great comedy from the 1980s, one less funny.

I say this as someone who believes that comedy is everything, and that drama is lifeless (or at least emotionally stunted) without it. Some might argue that comedy without drama is also limited and superficial, but I think comedy is more profound and complex -- and more difficult to pull off successfully. I can name plenty of comedies that capture a mature vision of human existence (if you're into that kind of thing -- like all of Buster Keaton), but a drama that (artificially) excludes humor is feels false and inert to me. [No, I'm not saying the other movies in the Top Ten are humorless or lack cinematic exuberance; just that their energy is not primarily comedic, as i feel Welles' and Renoir's are. To some extent, I'm talking about the overall tendency to value "seriousness" above "humor" in these sorts of exercises.] As for the 2012 Sight & Sound Top Ten, compare it with 1982 ("Singin' in the Rain," "The General"), 1992 ("L'Atlante") and 2002 ("Singin' in the Rain"). The lack of comedy on the new list hearkens back to the Somber Ol' Days of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. As somebody once said: Why so serious?

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A few calm words about The List

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The king is dead. Long live the king. Welles' "Citizen Kane" has been dethroned from the Sight & Sound list of the greatest films of all time, and replaced by Hitchcock's "Vertigo." It's not as if nobody saw this coming. The list first appeared in 1952, and "Vertigo" (1958) made the list for the first time only in 1982. Climbing slowly, it placed five votes behind "Kane" in 2002. Although many moviegoers would probably rank "Psycho" or maybe "North by Northwest" as Hitch's best, for S&S types his film to beat was "Notorious" (1946). That's the one I voted for until I went through "Vertigo" a shot at a time at the University of Virginia, became persuaded of its greatness, and put it on my 2002 list.

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The best greatest movies ever list

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UPDATED (08/01/12): Scroll to the bottom of this entry to see my first impressions of the newly announced critics' and directors' poll results.

Vittorio De Sica's "Bicycle Thieves" (1948) topped the first Sight & Sound critics' poll in 1952, only four years after it was first released, dropped to #7 in 1962, and then disappeared from the top ten never to be seen again. (In 2002 only five of the 145 participating critics voted for it.) Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941) flopped in its initial release but was rediscovered in the 1950s after RKO licensed its films to television in 1956. From 1962 to 2002 "Kane" has remained at the top of the poll (46 critics voted for it last time). This year, a whopping 846 top-ten ballots (mentioning 2,045 different titles) were counted, solicited from international "critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles" -- including bloggers and other online-only writers. Sight & Sound has announced it will live-tweet the 2012 "Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time" (@SightSoundmag #sightsoundpoll) August 1, and as I write this the night before, I of course don't know the results. But, for now at least, I'm more interested in the process.

Given the much wider and younger selection of voters in 2012, ist-watchers have been speculating: Will another movie (leading candidate: Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," number 2 in 2002) supplant "Kane" at the top of the list? Will there be any silent films in the top 10? (Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin" and Murnau's "Sunrise" tied for #7 on the 2002 list, but the latter was released in 1927 with a Fox Movietone sound-on-film musical score and sound effects.)

Though there's been no rule about how much time should pass between a film's initial release and its eligibility (the Library of Congress's National Film Registry requires that selections be at least ten years old), most of the selections ten to have stood the test of time for at least a decade or two. The newest film on the 2002 list was the combination of "The Godfather" (1972) and "The Godfather, Part II" (1974) -- but they won't be allowed to count as one title for 2012.

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Andrew Sarris, 1928-2012: In Memoriam

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Andrew Sarris, who loved movies, is dead at 83. He was the most influential American film critic of his time, and one of the jolliest. More than anyone else, he was responsible for introducing Americans to the Auteur Theory, the belief that the true author of a film is its director. Largely because of him, many moviegoers today think of films in terms of their directors.

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The best damned film list of them all

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Long-suffering readers will have read many times about my dislike of lists, especially lists of the best or worst movies in this or that category. For years they had value only in the minds of feature editors fretting that their movie critics had too much free time. ("For Thursday's food section, can you list the 10 funniest movies about pumpkin pie?") Now their value has shot way up with the use of slide shows, a diabolical time-waster designed to boost a web site's page visits.

In a field with much competition, Number One on my list of Most Shameless Lists has got to be Time mag's recent list of the "Best 140 Tweeters." How did the magazine present this? That's right, on 140 pages of a slideshow. Considering that the list had no meaning at all except as some hapless intern's grindwork, I'd say that was a bold masterstroke. I say so even though I was on it. Do you think I would click through 140 pages just looking for my name? You bet I did. And then stopped clicking.

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#100 February 1, 2012

Marie writes: While writer Brian Selznick was doing research for his book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret", he discovered the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia had a very old automaton in their collection. And although it wasn't one of machines owned by Georges Melies, it was remarkably similar and with a history akin to the one he'd created for the automaton in The Invention of Hugo Cabret...

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#98 January 18, 2012

Marie writes: Okay, this is just plain cool. This is clearly someone using their brain, in combination with "what the hell, let's just go ahead and try it..."

Dr Julius Neubronner's Miniature Pigeon CameraIn 1903, Dr Julius Neubronner patented a miniature pigeon camera activated by a timing mechanism. The invention brought him international notability after he presented it at international expositions in Dresden, Frankfurt and Paris in 1909-1911. Spectators in Dresden could watch the arrival of the camera-equipped carrier pigeons, whereupon the photos were immediately developed and turned into postcards which could be purchased. (click images to enlarge.) - from The Public Domain Review. Visit the site to see even more photos.

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#96 January 4, 2012

Marie Haws: Remember the Old Vic Tunnels?  I did some more sniffing around and you'll never guess where it led me. That's right - into the sewer system!  But not just any old sewer, oh no... it's the home of a famous forgotten river flowing beneath Fleet Street; the former home of English journalism.So grab a flashlight and some rubber boots as we go underground to explore "mile after mile of ornate brickwork" and a labyrinthine of tunnels which reveal the beauty of London's hidden River Fleet. (click images to enlarge.)

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It Ain't the Meat (It's the Motion): Thoughtson movie technique and movie criticism

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"People who are just getting 'seriously interested' in film always ask a critic, 'Why don't you talk about technique and "the visuals" more?' The answer is that American movie technique is generally more like technology and it usually isn't very interesting. [...] The important thing is to convey what is new and beautiful in the work, not how it was made - -which is more or less implicit." -- Pauline Kael, "Trash, Art and the Movies" (1969)

"By neglecting to analyze technique, Miss Kael can do no more than assert that a given film is new, or beautiful, hoping that her language will provide the reader with something parallel to the qualities implicit in the work of art." -- Charles T. Samuels, reviewing Kael's 1970 collection Going Steady (which includes "Trash, Art and the Movies") in the New York Times Book Review

"It is this implacable ignorance of the mechanics of filmmaking that prevails in all Kael's books. Yet she is never called on it. The reason, of course, is that her audience knows even less of these mechanics than she does, and professional film people do not wish to incur her displeasure by calling attention to it. She seems to believe that films are made by a consortium of independent contractors -- the writer writes, the cutter cuts, the actor acts, the cameraman photographs. In effect she is always blaming the cellist for the tuba solo." -- John Gregory Dunne, reviewing Kael's Deeper Into Movies (1973) in the Los Angeles Times Book Review

"To me, a good review, good criticism -- whether it's in the Cahiers du Cinema or Film Comment -- would be trying not to say, 'I don't feel,' or 'I don't see it the way you saw it,' but, rather, 'Let's see it. Let's bring in the evidence.'" -- Jean-Luc Godard, debating Kael in 1981 and challenging her approach to criticism

"Listen, you miserable bitch, you've got every right in the world to air your likes and dislikes, but you got no goddam right at all to fake, at my expense, a phony technical knowledge you simply do not have." -- director George Roy Hill in a letter to Kael (quoted in Brian Kellow's biography, "Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark")¹

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In her 1969 Harper's essay "Trash, Art and the Movies," Pauline Kael made her case for trash, saying semi-famously: "Movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them." But what separates "art" from "trash" (whatever she means by those labels) and is it really an either/or question? What if the differences have something (or everything) to do with "technique" (by which Kael, depending on which sentence you cite, might mean anything from technology to professional craftsmanship to directorial style)? After all, her favorite filmmakers (Altman, Peckinpah, De Palma, Godard, Spielberg) are stylists whose artistic vision (trashy vision?) is inseparable from their distinctive techniques. Even at a glance, you're not likely to mistake these auteurs' films for anyone else's.

So, I'd like to look into how the term(s) "technical" and "technique" are used by Kael (mostly in "Trash, Art and the Movies") and in those cherce quotations above. Way back when, Sidney Lumet said he considered Kael one of the most "perceptive and articulate" reviewers to come along in years, but that, like most critics, she lacked "any technical knowledge of how a movie is made." That mattered to him -- maybe especially after she said in his presence (after many spirited libations) that her job was "to tell him which way to go."²

Dunne, the occasional screenwriter, observed: "Few critics understand the roles of chance, compromise, accident and contingency in the day-by-day of a picture."³ I'd add that a failure to recognize the collaborative back-and-forth of the creative process -- and the industrial process -- of making movies (including contractual measures and union guidelines) also contributes to embarrassing critical misunderstandings that regularly find their way into print.

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It's the End of the Cinema, as we know it (then and now)

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In the summer of 1981, Robert Redford gathered novice and veteran filmmakers together for the first of what has become known as the Sundance Institute's Directors and Screenwriters Labs. Eleven projects were chosen for the workshop (there are 13 for the 2010 program) -- which, over the last 29 years, has included such films as Paul Thomas Anderson's "Hard Eight," Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs," Tamra Jenkins' "Slums of Beverly Hills," Darren Aranofsky's "Requiem for a Dream," Hany Abu-Assad's "Paradise Now," John Cameron Mitchell's "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and Kimberly Pierce's "Boys Don't Cry."

That's the old news.

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You better you better you best: The better of the best lists

If all the year-end and decade-end lists (even though we realize the decade isn't actually over until 2011) have left you dizzied and depleted, take heart! Perhaps you've missed out on some of the more invigorating, far-sighted list-based ventures. Over at Some Came Running, for example, Glenn Kenny conducted an ingenious and fascinating project, going back and taking a look at the late Manny Farber's Best Films of 1951. Meanwhile, at The Crop Duster, Robert Horton is engaged in surveying the year's best -- in non-chronological order -- from, oh, about 1919 or so, to the present, posting a new list every Sunday. What fantastic delights are to be found in these itemized accounts...

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You don't dismiss the dean

Andrew Sarris -- dean of American film critics, leading proponent of the auteur theory in America, author of the essential The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968 (and equally praiseworthy review and essay collections such as Confessions of a Cultist: On the Cinema, 1955-1969, Politics and Cinema and The Primal Screen), senior critic of the Village Voice for decades, co-founder of the National Society of Film Critics -- has reportedly been let go by cut from the staff of The New York Observer.

UPDATE: Dave Kehr has a clarification from Sarris's wife, critic Molly Haskell: "Andrew, along with a dozen other writers at the rapidly sinking weekly, was taken off staff on Monday, but he will continue to write on a freelance basis, exactly as Rex Reed does currently. Not great news, but -- particularly in the current context -- not a catastrophe. Andrew's day job, teaching at Columbia University, is not in danger."

Sarris, who turned 80 last October, was along with Pauline Kael the most influential film critic of the 1960s and 1970s. He was also the titular target of Kael's infamous attack on auteurism, "Circles and Squares: Joys and Sarris" (1963) -- ironic, since Kael was patently an auteurist through-and-through, even if she failed to recognize herself as such. No one has done more than Sarris to make the case that "Hollywood movies" were worthy of serious critical attention, every bit as much as "art films," no matter where they're made.

If you do not have a copy of The American Cinema -- from which, coincidentally, I just quoted a few indelible paragraphs a couple days ago -- do yourself a favor and buy it now. It's the best guide to approaching American movies that there is, beginning with Sarris's celebrated "pantheon" directors (some of whom were not, strictly speaking, "American" -- though they all worked in the US at some point): Charles Chaplin, Robert Flaherty, John Ford, D. W. Griffith, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Buster Keaton, Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch, F.W. Murnau, Max Ophuls, Josef von Sternberg, Jean Renoir and Orson Welles. (Later he added Billy Wilder to the pantheon.)

Glenn Kenny simply quoted Jean-Luc Godard on Orson Welles: "All of us will always owe him everything."

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Stark beauty, dark vision

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Q. In your review for "The Dark Knight," you say that the Joker is a product of his father's poor treatment, but that's just one story he uses to explain his scars. Another is that he did it for his wife, and Batman interrupts before he offers a -- most likely -- different story. I think the point was that he doesn't have a cause. Who's wrong here?

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'Juno' is bad because the people who made it are too old? Ellen Page too?!

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Q I have been following the debate about the clever dialogue in "Juno" and there are two things I don't understand: (1) Why do people continue to expect every film they see to be a flawless reflection of reality when no film, not even a documentary, could ever accomplish such a feat? Isn't one of the pleasures of going to the movies is seeing things we don't usually see in the real world? (2) Why aren't more people refreshed that a film has gone against the grain by creating characters more intelligent than real people, as opposed to the Hollywood norm of creating characters who are considerably dumber and more shallow than real people? Adam Breckenridge, Edmond, Okla.

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Blurb-a-thon 2007

View image The funniest scene in the funniest movie of the year. I think.

Instead of a "ten best list," Armond White makes an annual "Better Than List" which, in principle, I'm all against -- simply because of the formula: He uses a few adjectives and a "greater than" symbol to bash selected movie titles with selected other ones, like Daniel Plainview bludgeoning someone with a heavy object.

Then again, any "ten best list" (or "top ten list" or "favorites list") represents a preference for some movies over some other movies, seen by somebody under certain circumstances during a period of time. And, to not-quite-paraphrase Jean Renoir, "Everybody makes his own rules."

So, perhaps White is really just doing what (I hope) any list-maker does: Making a claim for his/her own critical taste and values, while recommending some movies. That he assumes the attitude of a bully over the approach of a critic or movie lover is, perhaps, not so important. (Quote: "'No Country for Old Men' > better than 'There Will Be Blood,' 'Zodiac.' The Coen brothers hauntingly mythologize Americana, while P.T. Anderson and David Fincher make it morbid, sadistic and self-congratulatory." Is there an inverse relationship between "morbid, sadistic and self-congratulatory" and "hauntingly mythological" -- Americana-wise, I mean?)

But look: Now I'm using other top ten lists to bash White's. Is there no getting around this? I fell ill (think of the scene with the old lady on the street in "The Orphanage") just as I was about to annotate my own 2007 list, after submitting various rankings to critics' polls at MSN Movies, indieWIRE and the Village Voice/LA Weekly poll, each of which had slightly different rules, categories and deadlines. (Then I posted a list in video form in late December). Consequently, I missed reading a lot of other peoples' lists (though The House Next Door and David Hudson at GreenCine, and the folks at Movie City News have put together invaluable lists of lists -- and/or lists of links -- that have helped me in my efforts to catch up, because, as I am fond of repeating, I actually learn from browsing these things).

Oh, yes, and I also posted the 2007 Exploding Head Awards as a kind of top-ten alternative. (Let me add that I have enjoyed no 2007 overview more than Dennis Cozzalio's at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.)

Now, just to wrap up this whole 2007 wrap-up thing, I'm going to recommend some movies and (in munchable blurbs of 150 words or less -- I hope) give you some idea of what I liked about them, without the intention of over-selling them. If I've written more extensively about them, I'll link their titles to a more detailed review or posting.

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